Kayaking through the Kitchen

By Sarah Niebrugge @SNiebrugge_DE l Daily Egyptian

When spending the summer in Carbondale, there are plenty of beautiful areas to explore. What you really need to do is start taking the path less traveled, or at least the path untraveled by yourself.

In other words, stop consistently taking the same hike, boat trip and vacation; find some fresh new areas or take a different path and see something you have not seen before.

This past weekend, that is exactly what I planned to do. No more trips to the same lake and no more taking the same hike. Jay Holland, the photographer on my journey, and I took our exploration to a location we had heard many good reviews of: Devil’s Kitchen Lake.

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Though the name may seem ominous and is known to be one of the deepest lakes in the area, the surroundings were nothing but peaceful.

Fortunately as SIU students, we were able to rent a two-person kayak from Outdoor Pursuits Base Camp Equipment Rental Center inside the Student Recreation Center for $10 per day. The base camp offers a plethora of other equipment and is open from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday and 4 to 7 p.m. on Sunday. The workers were very helpful and provided tips about nearby lakes.

Devil’s Kitchen, which is part of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, is located in Williamson County, just southwest of Marion. For parking, boating and other activities in the refuge, visitors must stop by the Refuge Visitor Information Center for a pass. One day on the refuge costs $2, seven days is $5 and an annual pass is $25, Neil Vincent, a park ranger who has been working with the refuge for 25 years, said.

After unloading the kayak, paddles and life vests, it was time to push off from the boat dock and explore.

As a first time kayaker, I was not sure what to expect. It was much more stable than the canoe I had been in before and was a lot more enjoyable than I was expecting.

While jet skiing and inner tubing may be a great part of the summer, this is not the place for those activities. Boats with horsepower of more than 10 are prohibited, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website. 

During the first few minutes of the day I thought it would be nice to have a stereo with us to play music. As I rowed closer to a rocky shore line, I realized how nice it was to be away from any man-made sound for a few hours and to just enjoy the quiet surroundings. 

The birds were chirping, cranes would glide every so often along the water and the hum of the wind blowing through the trees created a meditative atmosphere, which served as a nice break from the usual city noises. 

Other activities available at Devil’s Kitchen include camping, fishing and areas for picnics. 

In the blistering heat of southern Illinois weather, it is important to bring a plentiful amount of water and snacks to keep you hydrated and full of energy. At this lake, diving into the cold water is off limits. If swimming is on your agenda for the day, look elsewhere.

Devil’s Kitchen has a strict policy against swimming because there are stumps and logs in the water that could be dangerous if one were to jump in. On the Saturday I spent on the lake, it was flooded from the rain the day before. But on the typical summer day, the logs lie low beneath the water and are hard to see. 

Vincent said if you are looking for a place to swim, the best local places to go are the public beaches on Crab Orchard Lake and Little Grassy Lake.

But if you’re looking for a good place to relax on a kayak or canoe, get a pass and go enjoy the beauty of Devil’s Kitchen Lake and the wildlife around you.

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